Business acumen is a subject that we normally teach within Fortune 500 companies like HP, Abbott Labs, Heinz and Ashland, or in academic programs like the Executive MBAs at Cornell-Queen’s, Kennesaw State and Villanova.
However we also provide pro bono workshops for Acumen of New York, and they have sent Eliza and me to work with start-up entrepreneurs in Kenya and, last week, in Pakistan. Here we are with a remarkably diverse group of start-up entrepreneurs who are on a year-long Fellowship from Acumen in Pakistan. (No prizes for guessing which one is the assertive artist among them.)
This week-long retreat was held in Murree, 7,000 feet up in the hills above Islamabad. Looking down through the trees, sometimes you saw hills and valleys below you, sometimes – as in this photo – you saw only clouds. Murree was at one time the summer residence of the Governor and administration of the Punjab, and its main street, The Mall, was built for the shops and offices, churches and cafes of the summer inhabitants. When we were there, it being Ramadan, everything was open and the streets were alive even at 12:28 at night.
The Pakistanis are a naturally entrepreneurial people, but Pakistan sometimes feels like an old train with the steam up, but going nowhere. The people are full of hustle and bustle but low on organization and maintenance. A prosperous country, like a good business, needs both sets of characteristics – and Pakistan seems to need not an engine, but an engineer. This is probably why the military interventions always lead to economic and social progress (at least for the first few years), while the restoration of full democracy always seems to lead to chaos, corruption and decline. This is not a viable system in the modern world.
But the good news is that Pakistan as a whole has the qualities of energy and entrepreneurship which are virtually impossible to teach. It is only lacking a sense of order – which can be instilled, as the army demonstrates. And this, in a sense, is exactly what Acumen is doing.
Acumen provides seminars in such topics as Adaptive Leadership, Ethics, and (via our Income/Outcome business simulation) two days of business literacy and business acumen competency, as part of developing successful entrepreneurship competencies. We don’t need to provide the drive – but we can help clarify the thinking about business dynamics and processes, and the Fellows have been universally enthusiastic about gaining a clean, logical and orderly way of visualizing financial analysis and planning.
And the Fellows, if they are successful, will have enormous impact on their society: starting online export businesses, specialized universities, microfinance institutions – all with a social aspect, all with a viable business plan, all with an entrepreneurial drive.
We are proud to be associated with Acumen, and with the people of Pakistan. Good luck to all of you!